In the not too distant past, the stock photo image market was an expensive and confusing place to source images.
A handful of large photo stock companies dominated the market and fixed the prices out of reach for small website owners.
This situation has dramatically changed over the last five years, thanks to the internet.
There are now dozens of websites where you can find free or cheap royalty free photos.
I will cover the ones that I have used and can recommend.
Free Stock Photos
StockVault.net (www.stockvault.net) is a great resource for free, good quality photos … and much more.
At the time of this writing, they had a gallery of around 7,000 free images, including the image on the right of this page.
On the website, they also have a lot of other useful information, including design tutorials, Photoshop plug-ins and a design-related directory.
StockVault.net should be your first port of call when looking for images for your website.
Cheap Royalty-Free Images
If you can’t find any suitable free images, then it’s time to turn to the excellent ‘microstock’ websites where you can buy images for between $1 and $15. The quality of the images on these sites varies a lot, but overall, the photos are very good.
The way that most of these sites work is simple. Photographers and illustrators from around the world, some professional and some amateurs, submit their photos to the site. The site editors review the images and the ones that they judge to be good enough are published for sale on the site. When an image is sold, the creator automatically receives a commission of up to 60% of the sale price.
The sites that I have used, in no particular order, are:
IStockPhoto pioneered the microstock industry and now has the second largest selection of photos for sale on the internet. At the time of this writing, there were 1.8 million images to choose from and that number is growing daily. Prices range from $1 for an image suitable for web publishing up to $15 for an image suitable for creating a large print poster.
Dreamstime (www.dreamstime.com – dreams with an ‘s’)
Dreamstime does not have as large a selection as IStockPhoto, but I think the overall quality is better. You purchase the photos by buying credits. The more credits you buy at any one time, the cheaper each credit is. Credits start at $19.99 for 20 and go up to 130 credits for $99.99. You can also buy a monthly subscription to the site. One credit buys one image suitable for web publishing. A large image suitable for large prints is three credits.
Fotolia is the newest of the microstock sites, but they have made rapid inroads into the market. They claim to have 3.3 million images to choose from. Prices rage from $1/£1 to $3/£3 per image. Their image search is more advanced than on the other sites and the quality is generally very good.
Between these four sites, you should be able to find a photo to illustrate every possible website and article. For website publishers, these stock libraries are a dream come true. You can now have a professionally illustrated site for as little as a dollar a page.
And if you want to make a bit of money on the side, you can always start submitting your own photos to these sites for other people to buy.